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Preliminary Practical Primer to QuickDraw GX, Part III

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This article is the third and last in the TidBITS QuickDraw GX mini-series. This part introduces QuickDraw GX fonts, pointing out amazing features and potential problems.

If you've owned a Mac forever, you probably remember the old-style font world of bitmapped fonts, downloadable PostScript fonts, and (toward the end of the 80s) DeskWriter fonts. The first big font shake-up came in the early 90s when Apple released TrueType, and Adobe not only shared the specifications for how to create Type 1 fonts but also released Adobe Type Manager (ATM). Font management became more complex, but fonts became more flexible and fun, especially for people using QuickDraw printers. QuickDraw GX has ushered in a second big font shake-up, and everything font-related has been thrown topsy-turvy. The parts are up in the air now; they should shake down soon and then we'll see what works and what doesn't.

GX Font Summary -- QuickDraw GX uses a variety of font types:

  • True GX fonts, which have an impressive list of new capabilities. True GX fonts can be downloadable PostScript fonts or TrueType fonts.

  • Regular TrueType fonts, which do not need to be converted.

  • Type 1 downloadable PostScript fonts, which must be converted before they can be used with a GX printer driver. I haven't found any information about Type 3 fonts.

  • Bitmaps are not necessary, but I haven't figured out if they are still desirable under some circumstances.

True GX fonts, regular TrueType fonts, and converted Type 1 downloadable PostScript fonts look identical from the Finder- the icons look the same, and the Get Info window provides no clues. If you try the transition to GX, make a note of what's what, just in case you need to know (see the devil's advocate section later in this article).

True GX fonts -- I made up the term "true GX fonts" to refer to fonts specially designed to offer QuickDraw GX features. True GX fonts have built-in smarts that enormously extend their features and flexibility. Users no longer need attempt to follow typesetting conventions using inadequate fonts and software features; instead the fonts follow the conventions on their own. GX fonts can contain details about kerning, tracking, width, weight, and more. For example, when you type "TidBITS" using a GX font, the "i" might automatically tuck under the "T", according to specifications built into the font. As another bonus, if you rotate, stretch, or twist text written using GX fonts you can edit the text in its stylized state.

Before GX, fonts for languages such as English, German, and Spanish had room for 256 characters (the Mac uses about thirty of those characters for line breaks and the like, not for text), and few applications supported the more populated "double-byte" fonts required by some alphabets, most notably those used in Asian languages. In contrast, a GX font can contain 65,000 glyphs. Think of a glyph as a shape that could be an entire character or only part of a character. For example, the character "e" might be represented by four different glyphs, and each glyph might make the "e" look different, depending on where the "e" falls in a paragraph or sentence. Or, if the "e" needs to be accented, the accented "e" might be created by combining more than one glyph, perhaps one for the "e" and one for the accent. You could also have uppercase and small caps versions, as well as special ornamental versions.

65,000 glyphs accommodates most (if not all) written languages and allows font designers to add fractions, ligatures, special flourishes and embellishments, and more. Check out pages 530-532 of the new fifth edition of Peachpit's "Macintosh Bible" to see great examples of special GX features in Skia and Hoefler Text, true GX fonts which come with QuickDraw GX.

The Catch -- True GX fonts sound too good to be true, and currently - for most people - they are. Although (in theory) you can use a true GX font from any program, you cannot take advantage of the special GX features unless you use a program that supports them. From what I've heard, Pixar has the only third-party, shipping program that supports true GX fonts; the program, Pixar Typestry 2, is a font animation and rendering program, and it runs in native or 68K mode. Several companies have announced plans to support true GX fonts, including: Ares Software in Font Chameleon, Manhattan Graphics in the upcoming Ready,Set,Go! GX, version 6.5; and SoftPress Systems, in a new product called UniQorn. (Find out more about UniQorn in the 12-Sep-94 issue of MacWEEK, on page 20.) I expect that as time goes on, additional companies will jump on the GX-font bandwagon.

Apple's SimpleText also supports true GX fonts. Salman Abdulali <> had a chance to play around with SimpleText 1.1.1, and he wrote, "If you print one of the new GX fonts from SimpleText 1.1.1, you get automatic ligatures and curly quotes. Printing a document with Apple Chancery leads to more surprises. The first letter of a paragraph has the swashes. Several other characters take on special shapes depending on their positions . None of these features show up onscreen, but you can see them in either a hard copy or in a portable digital document." SimpleText 1.1 also appears to support true GX fonts; I don't know if 1.0 does.

I gather that GX font development tools make it reasonably easy to throw together a font containing only a few GX capabilities. Evidently, the Font Consortium (a group comprised of interested developers, including several of the big font foundries) is putting together a set of guidelines for what features a GX font should have and attempting to create a multiple-platform font standard that builds on GX technology (no telling what exactly "multiple platform font standard" means, but it sounds like an excellent topic for lengthy committee meetings).

To find out more about true GX fonts, go to the Apple Web site, enter the Tech Info Library, and search for "glyph".

Regular TrueType Fonts -- You can still use TrueType fonts under QuickDraw GX. TrueType fonts don't get converted and work whether you have GX on or off.

Downloadable PostScript Fonts -- Downloadable PostScript fonts that are not true GX fonts must be converted into GX fonts before you can use them with QuickDraw GX. Converting a downloadable PostScript font does not endow it with true-GX-font capabilities, but it does make it so documents using the font print with QuickDraw GX on (definitely an advantage). If you print with an unconverted downloadable Type 1 PostScript font, you get a mysterious error and no printout.

When you install QuickDraw GX, the installer takes a copy of all Type 1 downloadable PostScript fonts in the Fonts and Extensions folders and converts them into QuickDraw GX fonts. It places the original downloadable PostScript fonts in a folder called Archived Type 1 Fonts.

The Type 1 Enabler -- QuickDraw GX comes with an application (called Type 1 Enabler) that can convert downloadable PostScript fonts into GX fonts. The Enabler was written by Adobe, and it can convert all fonts in a folder or all fonts on a disk. It's great that you can convert the fonts, but the utility fails if you look at it cross-eyed. I had problems with the Enabler failing whenever it encountered a suitcase containing bitmaps for more than one font.

The Enabler caused Bob Arthur <> to throw in the towel on GX. He wrote, "If the Enabler encounters an error, such as a font suitcase containing a non-Type 1 font, it stops dead. You then have to quit the Enabler, remove the offending font suitcase from the folder, and start all over again. Until the next error. The Enabler even gives an error if it finds an already-enabled suitcase!"

Evidently the Type 1 Enabler that comes with QuickDraw GX is slow - it took five to ten seconds per font for me on a Power Mac 7100, and you can evidently get a faster version through various online services or the Adobe BBS at 408/562-6839. Unfortunately the file is not available on <>.

Adobe Type Manager -- If you use Adobe Type Manager (ATM), you must upgrade to version 3.7 or later. Version 3.7 comes with QuickDraw GX, but if you have a Power Mac, you may want the native version (see the MailBIT above). Using Adobe Type Manager requires that you pay attention when you turn off QuickDraw GX. A source at Adobe pointed out that Adobe Type Manager 3.7 and 3.8 fail to print GX-style PostScript fonts (true GX or converted to GX) if you print with GX off but with ATM on. In my own testing, GX-style fonts did print with GX off and ATM off.

Devil's advocate questions -- A few people wrote in to ask what happens if you print with a GX font, but without GX. It seemed a worthy question, so I rebooted with QuickDraw GX off to see what would happen when printing both true GX fonts and converted PostScript fonts.

At first I thought I had a problem because I couldn't print in the background, but then I discovered the cause of the problem - although I cannot swear to it, I believe that the GX installer deleted Print Monitor; hence, background printing failed. With Print Monitor installed, I printed fine using PSPrinter 8.1 and LaserWriter 7.2 (with background printing on or off) from two non-GX-savvy applications - Nisus 3.4 and Word 5.1. I also had no problems with Word 6, which supports GX printing (but not the fonts).

My success with WriteNow 3.0 was limited. WriteNow crashed when I attempted to format text in the PostScript true GX Tekton (a font that comes with QuickDraw GX) and the PostScript converted Katfish (a font from Letraset's newest collection of Fontek display faces). On the other hand, WriteNow worked with Hoefler Text and Hoefler Text Ornament (both true TrueType GX fonts that come with QuickDraw GX) or with a converted PostScript font called Cursive. (Cursive comes from Educational Fontware, and teachers use it to prepare materials that help students learn handwriting.) My problem sounds similar to one Salman Abdulali passed on. "WriteNow 4.02 crashes with a Type 1 error if you use a PostScript Type 1 font converted to GX format. This includes the Tekton font bundled with QuickDraw GX. The other TrueType GX fonts (Apple Chancery, Skia, Hoefler Text) work without problems."

I did not test GX fonts on a Mac running an older version of the System (such as System 7.0 or 6.0.7). If I had a deadline to meet related to a converted or true GX font working with an older System version, I'd test it well before the deadline.

Another issue that some people will want to check is what happens to the placement of printed characters if you create a document using a converted PostScript GX font (such as Futura) and then print the document using a non-converted version of the font. Although you should get the same results, I've heard rumors that characters shapes or spacing may change slightly.

Similarly, everyone who uses type professionally wants to know if they can take documents that use GX fonts to service bureaus and have the printing process go smoothly. I don't have an answer, but it's a good question, and perhaps I'll follow-up with better information.

Wrap-Up -- This ends my preliminary look at QuickDraw GX, though I suspect future TidBITS issues will have updates. If the Macintosh had shipped for the first time in 1994, and all Macs shipped with big hard disks, 20 MB of RAM onboard, QuickDraw GX, and all drivers, fonts, and programs were GX-savvy, everyone would rave about the innovative new Macintosh and its amazing font technology. Unfortunately, the transition to QuickDraw GX is going to be awkward (or impossible) for many people, but the nature of the computer industry is to constantly push the envelope on what can be done. It's refreshing to see Apple pushing hard and shipping something new.

Adobe -- 415/961-4400
Ares Software Corporation -- 415/578-9090
Educational Fontware, Inc. -- 800/806-2155 -- 206/842-2155
Manhattan Graphics -- 914/725-2048
Letraset -- 800/343-8973
Pixar -- 510/236-4000 -- 510/236-0388 (fax)
SoftPress Ltd. (U.K.) -- 44-993-882588 -- 44-993-883970 (fax)
Information from:
Getting Started with QuickDraw GX (an installation guide in the
Peirce Print Tools software package)
"Inside QuickDraw GX Fonts," by Erfert Fenton, Macworld (Oct-94,
pg. 122). (An excellent article!)
Apple propaganda
Pixar propaganda


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